GOP convention turns to appeal for hurricane aid

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – Republicans hurried to turn the opening day of their national convention into a fundraising drive for hurricane victims Monday, with presidential candidate John McCain’s wife Cindy and first lady Laura Bush appealing for Gulf Coast help. McCain visited a disaster relief center in Ohio.

Convention talk also focused on the announcement that the 17-year-old, unmarried daughter of McCain’s running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, was pregnant, a disclosure the campaign said was aimed at rebutting Internet rumors that Palin’s son, born last April, was actually her daughter’s.

Party officials in St. Paul kept a watchful eye on still-dangerous Hurricane Gustav Monday to decide next steps for their shortened convention. They said they still expected McCain to address the convention at tomorrow night’s finale.

McCain’s wife, Cindy, and Mrs. Bush were to address the abbreviated convention session on relief efforts.

Mrs. Bush told Texas delegates they would talk about “what people around the country, as well as the people here, the delegates here, can do to help specific states.”

The Republican National Committee modified its Web site to show an opening banner that says: “Hurricane Gustav: How You Can Help.”

President Bush, whose administration was widely accused of a botched handling of the Katrina disaster three years ago, traveled to Texas rather than to St. Paul, where he had been scheduled to speak on the opening night of the Republican National Convention. Bush planned visits to Austin and San Antonio to visit staging grounds for hurricane response efforts. There was no word on whether he would address the convention at some point by satellite.

The Republican convention remained in limbo on its first day. At McCain’s behest, party leaders called off the usual festivities and planned only a truncated meeting in the afternoon.

Gustav, weakened somewhat to a Category 2 storm with 110 mph winds, came ashore in the heart of Louisiana’s fishing and oil industry, about 70 miles southwest of New Orleans on Monday, delivering only a glancing blow to New Orleans.

In Waterville, Ohio, McCain visited a disaster relief center, and helped pack cleaning supplies and other items into plastic buckets that will be sent to the Gulf Coast area.

Linda Green, who runs the center, thanked McCain for directing Republicans to avoid “hoopla” at the convention and respecting the needs of storm victims instead.

“Each one should use whatever gift he or she has received to serve others faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms,” the Arizona senator said, reading from Green’s business card.

McCain, who visited Mississippi on Sunday, said that while there is now better coordination among federal, state and local authorities, there are still problems.

“There’s still, I think, not as much communications equipment as we want. There’s still not enough search-and-rescue capabilities, although they’re trying to fix that. It’s not perfect, but I think that it’s dramatically different than it was in response to Katrina,” McCain said in an interview broadcast on NBC’s “Today” show. The interview was taped on Sunday.

Cindy McCain and Palin arrived in the convention city Sunday night.

Concerned about negative images of partying delegates while Gulf Coast residents suffer, the Republican National Committee and the McCain campaign were trying to police activities on the convention sidelines.

That included a warning to Louisiana delegates against traditional alcohol-laced “hurricane parties,” following reports of a late-night celebration on Sunday ahead of the storm’s landfall on Monday.